In Common Spotlight: Interview with Michelle Zimmer, creator of The Bronx Was Brewing

Welcome fellow Commoners,

I’m happy to bring you all another spotlight on a #maker here at the Commons, Michelle Zimmer’s project The Bronx was Brewing.

In the years before prohibition, over sixteen hundred breweries pumped out more than 2 billion gallons of beer a year. By the end of prohibition, only a handful remained. Many of the most famous pre-prohibition breweries survived by making products other than beer–Pabst made cheese; Coors made ceramics; Yuengling made ice cream.

While most people think of Brooklyn as the flannel-clad spiritual home of the craft food movement, Zimmer (MALS 2018) offers a very different view of the brewing industry. Focusing on her home borough of The Bronx, Zimmer explores the rich brewing history of the nineteenth-century when beer was often safer to drink than water.

Zimmer’s project is ambitious, combining the digitized archival documents, original photojournalism, and a scholarly but relatable style. It is a glimpse into the thriving immigrant mecca the Bronx has always been. For me, the lesson in Zimmer’s work is that that industries die out and the cultures that arise in connection with them evolve.

Grab your favorite craft brew, and dive into this interview with Michelle Zimmer about her amazing project.


Note: This interview has been compiled from emails and notes. It has been lightly edited for style and content.

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In Common this week: Interview with Ned Benton of New York Slavery Records Index

Dear fellow Commoners,

I have another behind-the-scenes look for this week!

Below, I interview with Ned Benton, Co-Director of the New York Slavery Records Index and Professor at John Jay College. The New York Slavery Records Index opened to the public on the CUNY Commons in January 2018 offering a searchable database of over 37,000 records related to slavery in New York State. In the interview Benton describes what inspired the project, how CUNY students compiled the data, and why the database belongs on the Commons.

Whatever you do, don’t skip Benton’s answer to the last question where he describes some of the most interesting details already uncovered using the tool.

I’ve played around with the database on my own and even used it in an American Literature course I’m teaching this semester. Using it, I found out my elementary and middle schools were named for former slave-owners. Hopefully you’ll be inspired by the project, or learn something by using the tool. Hopefully this interview will give you some of the interesting history behind the project, too.

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In Common this week: “Departed but not gone”

Welcome fellow Commoners,

This week I’m looking backwards at sites that have been left dormant on the Commons and offer a kind of “distant reading. The title of this post comes from the title of one of those sites, dormant for over five years. (BTW: If anyone out there is looking for a corpus to explore, I’ve only scratched the surface here. Like many of the sites that will be referenced in this post, this is a hint at a project that could be. But it’s also a fascinating glimpse at the history of this digital community)

The idea comes from me doing some “spring cleaning” in my Commons account–removing myself from groups that have been inactive for years or from sites I no longer administer.

It got me thinking about the sites on the Commons that haven’t been deleted and persist years since they’ve been touched. The homepage pushes the most recently active sites, but what can we learn from looking at the opposite side of that spectrum?

I decided to make a list of the titles and post it here. I’ve organized them loosely around themes I noticed. These themes suggest experiences that we Commoners share–truly what we have “in common.” I think they also represent opportunities: they are ideas, ready for someone to pick up again.

To make the list I searched the Commons for sites that haven’t been active in more than three years, going all the way back to 2009 when The Commons first went live. I haven’t included titles that are simply people’s names, opting to share those which are more suggestive. Many of the actual sites are blank, with the default sample pages or simply an error apologizing for not finding anything. Sometimes the sites have content, though. Some are time capsules, others perplexing, funny, poignant, sad, self-depreciating, infuriating.

I’m interested in what you all see.

All the best,



Many sites suggest a traveling narrative:

Beyond the Pale

path less traveled by

Just Passing By

Odysseys and Homelands (sic)

Others revel in their unfinished-ness:

In Medias Res

Poems in Progress

Always a Working Title

Some capture a romantic or metaphysical self:

The Dilated Soul

My Passions


Collecting the Self

Inventing the Self

Many, like this list,  suggest a wandering mind:

Occasional Thoughts

Engaging Thought



Notes to myself


Thought Sphere

Public Ponderings

Thoughts and Musings

ocasional intrpspections on the world…

Asymmetrical Thoughts and Other Freudian Slips.

Some either are unfinished projects or sound like them:


Erotic Lit and etc

Delicious Food for Swallowing (actually about food that is easy to swallow)


Quant Made Fun

A Minor Map

Counter-Mapping Return

Measure of Justice

Queer Lines of Communication Digital Scrapbook


1960-1985 Computer Historical Moments for

Wrestling Freedom from a Realm of Necessity

Unsurprisingly, technology is a common theme:



Luddite No Mas

Datalogical Turn

Blog about to Bloom

super user dood

Code. Play. KILL.


Mistakes I’ve Made in WordPress So Far

Teaching is also a common theme, although there are clearly sub-themes in this group:

Things I say to my BlackBoard students

If I wasn’t a teacher…

Raised by CUNY

Adventures in Teaching


School Survival

My  “academic” self

Blackboard Awesome

Trials and Tribulations of a Library Science Stude (sic)

CUNY Comments

But there’s excitement for CUNY, too:

My Professors..I adore and respect a lot!


Graduate NYC!

And then there’s the grab-bag category:

Thanks for all the fish

Having Fun

The Sound of the Stick

It seems we are at an impass (sic)

Miss Informed

The People’s Suitcase

When it Rains…

In Memoriam

Departed but not gone

Planning for the future

Place to Try Things Out

Start Procrastinating…Tomorrow

Lazy Sunday

The Manifold


The Archive

Birds of a Feather

Feed Me Seymour!

DId We Break It

It Cannot be Trivial

In the Know How and Who

In Spite of Kryptonite

always a bridesmaid

Consequence of the Four Incapacities




Teaching on the Commons: An Experiment with Discussion across Three American Lit. Courses

Welcome fellow Commoners,

In this post I focus on a project Jason Nielsen and I have been working on this semester. Jason and I are both instructors at Queens College and between us, we’re teaching three sections of the same American Literature survey course at Queens College. Using a shared forum on a course page, we’re having our students discuss shared texts throughout the semester and collaborate on projects. Our primary goals are to invigorate class discussion with these additional voices and to make visible the approaches Jason and I take to these texts, too. You can take a look at the course site here:

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In Common this Week: Classes that produce Resources to Share

Welcome fellow Commoners!

This week I want to highlight two courses that are running on the Commons this semester whose expressed goal is sharing content beyond their classrooms. As the course site for Free Queer CUNY proudly declares “If it can’t be shared, it can’t be taught!”

What is unique about these courses is that they push coursework to not only engage with on-going discussion in their fields, but to produce actual tools that can be used. Students are producing genuine work product geared towards a very public audience.

  • The first site is a clearing house for the Independent Study projects created by students in the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy certificate program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Students in the program participate in a two-part seminar in which they work together to create digital tools and projects. You can find these projects all over the Commons, but on this site you can see a collection of many of the most recent projects. It’s an exciting place to browse for inspiration but also you might discover tools useful to your research or classes:
  • The second site is the course site mentioned in the introduction. The course, IDS 70100 at the Graduate Center, asks students to design Queer Studies courses that can be used for undergraduates at CUNY campuses. It’s hard to imagine a collaboration that is more perfect for the CUNY Commons. It’s early in the semester, but students are already sharing resources, brainstorming ideas, and scaffolding assignments. This shared process work, along with the final syllabuses will be of tremendous help to educators in the future here at CUNY and elsewhere.

Look out for a post next week about an experiment I’m trying with a colleague with teaching on the Commons and using discussion forums across multiple classes.

That’s all for now, keep exploring the Commons!


Welcome to a New Semester

Welcome back fellow Commoners!

It’s the beginning of a new semester and the changes around The Commons is pretty obvious. The recent push to make teaching on the Commons easier has certainly produced results and browsing around there are so many exciting course sites to be found. It reminds me that one of the most useful aspects of this digital space is that it is shared across CUNY. I’m as guilty as the next person as focusing rather narrowly on the campus on which I teach. When I’m developing a new course I look at the syllabuses of my colleagues at Queens College. There’s no good reason for that–there are wonderful educators with innovative at other schools, too. With more courses from across CUNY on the Commons, it’s a glimpse at the teaching practices and ideas of people from so many campuses. There’s a lot to sort through, but what an incredible shared resource!

I have many plans for this blog this semester. Along the lines of the most popular post from the Fall semester, I’ll be focusing on some of the movers and shakers around the Commons, bringing you brief interviews that give you a glimpses behind-the-scenes of some exciting projects. I’ll also occasionally describe my personal experiences teaching on the Commons this semester. As always, I’ll also be highlighting new posts and sites over the coming weeks.

Get ready fellow community members!



In Common goes on Winter Vacation!

Welcome fellow Commoners and congratulations!

We’ve made it to the end of the semester. Sometimes it feels like more of an accomplishment than other times, but it’s always a time to celebrate. The work we do each semester is incredibly fulfilling, at time maddening, and always worth while. I’ve enjoyed exploring the Commons and encouraging you to do the same. I’m planning on using the break to write a number of conference proposals (I mentioned this in my last post), visiting some archives, and preparing for my blogging and teaching in the next year!

Just because I’m taking a break from this blog doesn’t mean the Commons goes dark or I won’t be roaming through it. In fact, the winter break is one of the most productive times on the Commons. People hunker down and make all the updates they’ve wanted and launch the projects they’ve been pondering. Maybe you’ll be doing it, too.

I’ll see you in the new year fellow Commoners!



In Common this Week: Conferences Websites!

Welcome fellow Commoners!

We’ve reached the last leg of the race and are racing for the finish line! It’s a time of the semester when everyone is busy and our inboxes are steadily filling. I’ll look at them, we promise ourselves, when classes are over. Many of them, and likely your inbox is like mine, are conference CFPs and my winter break will be busy sending in proposals to several conferences. That got me thinking this week about how a good conference website can really help promote a conference and to expand the constructive networks one builds at a conference into the digital world.

So this week I’m directing you to some of the good conference websites people have created on the Commons in the past year (conference organizers take note!). It’s some inspiration for the winter break!

The CUNY Games Conference – This is the fourth CUNY Games conference (you can visit their other conference websites, too!) and they have an impressively put together site using the newest WordPress theme. With a flashy header video and a smart use of images and fonts, this website looks pretty slick. Most importantly, it looks good on a mobile device, something that’s particularly important during the conference because that’s how most people will be accessing schedules!d

BMCC CUNY CUE Conference (Coordinated Undergraduate Education) – Another slick, mobile adaptive site. This site is paired down and the big, bold icons make navigation easy.

Fifth Biennial Literature and Law Conference – This site foregrounds the keynote speakers, so it’s clearly intended for promotion prior to the conference. It functions as a digital billboard that you can send people to with a simple web address. This site proves you don’t need fancy bells and whistles or a digital team to have a good conference website.

That’s it for this week. Hopefully these sites will spark some inspiration and, maybe, connect you to some resources on topics you’re interested in!

All the best,


In Common this Week: Where to Find out about What’s New on The Commons

Welcome back fellow Commoners!

The Commons is a digital network which, at it’s core, is a network of people. During weeks like this one, when people are gearing up for a holiday, there’s a natural ebb to the activity on the Commons. Most people will be blissfully away from there serious work for a day or two, long enough to enjoy time with their family and friends. I know I’m hoping to be!

I’ve been taking a German reading class all semester to satisfy a language requirement and recently the instructor talked about how German allows new words to be created easily. One of her examples was vergoogelt, which means “to Google too much.” I’ve definitely fallen into the Google pit, when you start looking up one topic and stand up from your lap top two hours later researching something complete different. So this week, instead of highlighting a few new sites, I’ve decided to share some of the best ways to find out about what people are doing on the Commons and you can do your own vergoogelt-ing. All of these are ways I follow activity daily as part of the work to put together this blog. Each week I try to highlight some of the most interesting sites, or sites activity based on a theme, but the truth is there much more that doesn’t make it into these weekly posts. The only way to find out about what people are doing is to jump into the streams. . .

The Commons Home Page – Putting this on my list might seem like cheating, but it’s genuinely the only place that brings together most of the separate streams. You can see recent site posts but also group activity. WordPress sites get all the glory but Commons Groups are where much of the real collaborative activity happens. Some groups, like the Events Group, are open to the public and allow any Commons user to post information on upcoming events that might be of interest to fellow Commoners. Some groups require permission to join, but you can’t learn about them until you take a look!

Site Directory – Accessible from the main navigation menu (Sites), this list sorted by date shows you not only recent posts to sites around the Commons but also sites that have just been started. If you see a site about something your interested in, you can contact the authors and see how to get involved. Taking a look at this list every once in a while also helps you get a handle on what organizations are producing the most content.

Recent Activity – This list is the hardest to find (from the main navigation menu click News but not the drop down menu item), but is one of the best. Like the other two streams, this is ordered with the most recent activity first. This list is similar to the Commons Home Page in that it brings together several streams, but unlike the Home Page it integrates everything into one list. You can see who has joined the Commons most recently, who have recently become “friends,” who has joined groups, which groups or sites are new, and recent posts, comments, or group activity. This is probably the most comprehensive stream on the Commons.

So go get vergoogelting!


All the best,


In Common this Week: Getting News about the Commons Development

Welcome fellow Commoners!

I’ve published a few posts this semester about the development that is always going on behind the scenes to help the Commons evolve to meet the needs of its users. I’ve posted a behind-the-scenes snapshot and highlighted examples of how people have made suggestions and made use of recent changes. This week I want to highlight the official sources of developmental news.

CUNY Academic Commons Development Blog – This site details the routine updates that happen every few weeks. Each release is detailed after it’s up and running and includes a list of all updates (to plugins, themes, etc.). It’s a great place to see how dynamic the Commons really is!

CUNY Academic Commons News – If the Development Blog is for the techie, Commons News is for the layperson. If you want helpful descriptions of new features and major updates, this is the place for you. It also helpfully links to relevant documentation.

Looking forward to the Thanksgiving Holiday next week,